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My Not-so-secret Love Affair and the Illegal Alien

With all the hullabaloo that’s been going around lately in the media about affairs and immigration, I figured I’d ride the wave a little bit and tread carefully on the thin line that is fondly known as “clickbait”. Well, to be honest with you, the title of this blog post has little to nothing to do with either. It does provide a vague allusion, though. Illegal aliens, when referenced to the natural world translate to what we term invasive species. Plant or animal, it doesn’t matter – even something as commonplace as bamboo is actually an invasive specie. As noble as the idea was, Greater Birds of Paradise were invasive on Little Tobago when Sir William Ingram brought 24 pairs there in the early 20th century.  Invasive species can do either of two things – perish, or survive.

Obviously, if the invasive species decides to call it quits, things go back to normal. Hurricane Flora wiped out most of the birds of paradise on Little Tobago in 1963, causing the already small population to eventually fizzle out by 1981. Should the introduced plants or animals latch on to life (as many do so well, as they’re built for survival) this usually spells disaster for native species. Cats, rats and other ground based predators introduced to New Zealand nearly wiped out the nocturnal, flightless Kakapo. Cane toads are raising hell throughout Australia. Burmese pythons are squeezing the life out of all other predators (including alligators) in the Florida Everglades.

So how do they get there? It’s a toss-up between accident and misinformation. Sir Ingram, when he brought the birds of paradise to Little Tobago, was doing so in a bid to preserve the population that was plummeting in its native Papua New Guinea (as a result of overhunting for their feathers). Some animals would accompany human explorers as pets or stowaways. Some, like the pythons of Florida, were initially pets. When the python starts to get bigger than the exotic owner intended (surprise, pythons grow) they’re cast out to fend for themselves in a remote corner of a swamp. Well, an eight foot python has already received a headstart in life. It’s going to eat, and find other pythons, and reproduce. In Trinidad, Indian Mongooses were brought here in an effort to deal with the numerous snakes. Well, the snakes eat rats and mice. So now we have tons of those plus families upon families of Indian Mongoose in various habitats across the country. And mongooses aren’t particularly picky eaters, they eat far more than just snakes.

Anyway, within our small island we do have a few invasive species of birds. A few years ago, I noticed some house sparrows on one of the main shipping ports on the island. I had to notify the relevant authorities, and they captured most of the birds and humanely euthanized them. Sounds harsh, but it’s necessary. House sparrows are notorious for their breeding rates – one pair can breed up to six times in a year. I have stopped working on the port a few years now, so who knows the real status of the house sparrow? Related to the sparrow is another seedeater, the Tricoloured Munia. These birds are native to southeast Asia, but there are surviving introduced populations in Jamaica and Venezuela. And Trinidad. I’m assuming that our population here came from the mainland – as these birds were first noticed in the southern half of the island. I’ve also heard another story: they were brought here as cagebirds, however munia are terrible singers and they were instantly released. They are generally quiet birds, giving a quiet “peep peep” as they feed and move about in small to medium flocks.

Which (finally) gets me to the point of this post. An evening enjoying the wayward, lanky and lazy of a Long-winged Harrier, a few tiny birds zoomed past. Knowing that Tricoloured Munia was a bird occasionally seen in the area, I chalked up the sighting to the few birds that I had seen there previously just returning home. A few minutes later, another flock whizzed past. Then another. And another. This was getting out of hand. I knew maybe 10-15 birds were recorded in that area before, however this time the numbers must be at least a couple hundred birds. Suddenly, the harrier dropped out of the sky, talons first. So I forgot all about the munias. When it reappeared, it was fumbling with something in its talons. They are known egg-thieves, but eggs are carried delicately in the mouth. Sure enough, it wasn’t an egg.







When I finally decided to pay some attention to the flocking munia, I realized that they were seemed to all be congregating in a particular field that wasn’t too far away. But I tend to get distracted easily. Especially when up pops a super secretive Pinnated Bittern with hormones raging, looking for a mate. Although this particular bird wasn’t as interested in us as the last bittern (read about that and see the pictures here), it was in gorgeous evening light, so I couldn’t help myself.







The light was only getting better and the bird were coming thick and fast at the Tricoloured Munia roost site. Some of them were stopping in an adjacent field, and once viewed closely, adult birds really are striking. They’re also called “nuns” I believe for the obvious visual reason.







Any outdoor photographer knows that once the light reaches its peak (in measurements of gold) it very quickly disappears. But I do enjoy this time of day, as it allows for some creative use of digital camera tools. Sure enough, had I been shooting film, I would’ve packed up shop a long time ago, as hit-or-miss techniques just end up wasting loads of money. And when it comes to dabbling in slow-shutter-speed-land, I am in complete glee. You are allowed to paint with light, paint with birds, paint with grass, anything you can find actually. Personally, it gives me the complete artistic freedom to show something that’s more than just a picture. After all, what we perceive is indeed the reflections of various wavelengths of light, so why not play with it?







As it got darker and darker, I made use of one of the often unmentioned tools in the arsenal that comes with a zoom lens. Zoom blurs are particularly off-putting to many people as it can make you upset if you stare at it for too long. I had figured I was overdoing it at this point, so the decision to call it a day was made.


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